Virtual Volunteering: The New Frontier

Prior to a few months ago, volunteering was generally perceived as an activity limited to the local community and carried out solely in person. However, the rapid advancement of digital communication resulting from the pandemic has fundamentally altered this perception. With the proliferation of digital platforms, it has become evident that many activities that previously required physical presence can now be accomplished remotely. Consequently, the prospect of online volunteering has materialized and is poised to transform the way volunteering is understood and approached.

You might wonder who really benefits from virtual volunteering. Even if sometimes the benefits are not immediately obvious, it is hard to deny the positive impact of virtual volunteering for both charities and volunteers.

Due to the pandemic’s effects, which have caused some individuals to lose their jobs or be unable to leave their homes, organizations such as VolunteerMatch have been receiving a record number of inquiries about virtual volunteering and more and more organizations started to consider it as a way of strengthening their volunteer base. This explosion of virtual volunteers is in part a result of the amount of free time people have during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that people are looking to fill their time with positive and productive work. There are so many skilled people out there who have wished to volunteer but lacked the time. By offering the ability to volunteer virtually, organizations have unlocked a powerful new sector of highly skilled people to contribute to their organization. And motivated individuals have found a means to make a difference.

A report on the ‘Impact of UN Volunteers Online’ conducted by the United Nations volunteer program in the past years showed that 46% of receiving organizations valued the cost-effectiveness of virtual volunteering, and 41% valued having access to technical expertise which was not available internally.

Virtual volunteering is advantageous to almost everyone involved. Traditional volunteering typically entails dedicating several hours of one’s day to travel to a particular site to fulfill a specific organization’s needs. However, with virtual volunteering, organizations can not only engage with more volunteers but also enhance productivity by avoiding travel time. Furthermore, organizations may realize savings in facility expenses as more volunteers and staff work remotely.

Although some may argue that virtual volunteering lacks the interpersonal benefits associated with traditional volunteering, the shared passion for a cause and the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals still exist. The global reach of virtual volunteering is a significant advantage, enabling individuals worldwide to contribute and advocate for issues they care about through online platforms. As a result, organizations can access a wider range of volunteer talent and fill any position, even the most challenging ones, beyond their immediate community.

Virtual volunteering not only provides individuals with a sense of purpose during uncertain times but also affords the opportunity to expand their network in a familiar and convenient online environment. In-person volunteering can be intimidating due to factors such as time constraints, unfamiliar surroundings, and the need to be physically present, which can discourage potential volunteers from taking the first step. Virtual volunteering mitigates these pressures, enabling volunteers to focus on supporting their organizations while feeling at ease.

How to manage virtual volunteers

Coordinate Time Schedules

Managing resources in virtual volunteering can be challenging when volunteers are located in different time zones across the globe. However, overlapping work hours for different teams can create a continuous workflow that benefits the organization while allowing volunteers to work at their convenience. Virtual volunteering can also benefit individuals looking to add American volunteering experience to their resumes.

Set goals and expectations

Detailed goals and workflow expectations can help virtual teams complete tasks during their peak work hours. Providing real-time feedback and using collaboration programs like Zoom, Dropbox, and Google Drive can enhance efficiency and success. Platforms like Slack and Sign-Up Genius can also help volunteers organize and coordinate easily.

Traditional meets virtual

Finally, with managing virtual volunteers you want to treat them as if they are “traditional” volunteers and set the same expectations and level of engagement. The volunteers you are working with may be incredibly skilled and are sincerely looking for an avenue for their professional development all while doing good for the community, so it’s important to make a virtual volunteer feel involved and part of the project.

Although virtual volunteering is a valuable resource, it has its downsides. Working in person may feel more involved and fulfilling, and virtual tasks may not give the same sense of accomplishment. Internet connectivity issues can also hinder progress and exclude those who are not as tech-savvy.

In conclusion, the rise of more prevalent virtual volunteering is perhaps a silver lining during this incredibly challenging time and more than likely will continue to be a widespread form of volunteering going forward. While there are several negatives and issues with this form of volunteering, the benefits as stated above truly outweigh any negative aspects it may have. Giving organizations the ability to recruit people who are highly skilled and available for virtual work helps tremendously and gives people who may otherwise never be able to volunteer the ability to connect. While virtual volunteering is still a subject that is evolving, we can imagine that in the coming years, there will be even more resources for organizations and virtual volunteers alike.

Check out our guide on how to successfully onboard virtual volunteers here and subscribe to our blog!

Author: Katia Sperandio, for WebServes

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